I never played team sports

IMG_20150220_103443502

A good friend of mine grew up playing team sports. He often uses this analogy when talking with me about his approach to life: In sports, you learn how to get back up and brush yourself off. And he often jokes with me: If sportspeople all had your personality, we’d have mass team suicides after every loss.

I am a tad bit on the emotional, sensitive side (haha). My emotions often dominate me, and they are incredibly strong. So strong, they come on like an attack. Sometimes they prostrate me.

I grew up skiing. I skied with my family, but skiing, at least at the recreational level, is an inherently solitary sport. It’s you and the mountain, and the overseeing sky. It’s you against yourself, seeking to do better on the next run. There are no losses or wins, just you trying to feel that bounce in your turns. Sure, you fall. But once you reach a certain level, you do so rarely if ever. Which is a good thing when you’re going 20 miles an hour.

Skiing frees me. Team games, when I did them in gym class, were like playing a sport called “extreme stress.” I worried about making mistakes and being made fun of. Which is an almost certainty when you are a pale, shy, nerdy little girl without much skill. Even the gym teacher despised me. He was a buff, macho guy who was, it was rumored, biased against honors kids. He once called me out during a basketball game in a tone clearly meant to convey both disgust and dismissal: “You can’t run with the ball like that, little girl!”

Which is all to say, team sports and I never got on. I don’t think that’s the only reason I didn’t acquire much emotional resilience, though. I was sensitive and shy, and my parents did not press me to do things that were so obviously against my nature as team sports. Nor did they send me marching back to piano lessons when a mean teacher made me cry (actually they did make me finish out the course of lessons they’d paid for, but then let me quit). Their reasoning was probably that I was not very interested in piano. All I wanted to do was read. Read and read and read some more. And they let me. But I would have benefited from some lessons on not giving in to feelings of hurt and victimization. (I must stress that I do not intend “victimization” here to mean I often feel victimized by others – I am more of a self-blamer; it’s typical of people with depression to internalize anger at being hurt into self-loathing and, well, depression. However, it cannot be denied that I do place myself in a position of emotional victimization – again, not so much with regard to other people, as to my own reactions to traumas.)

Yes, as a child I was coddled emotionally. To my detriment. Not that I blame my parents – they are simply very gentle people who believed children should be allowed to pursue their own interests and didn’t quite understand that children must be taught discipline and endurance in the face of failure.

The end result, however, is that I’m not very good at getting up and brushing myself off. Not that I’m a quitter – I am still hammering away at a seemingly unfinishable dissertation, after all. But I do tend to let feelings of failure roost in the self-worth part of my brain until it resembles an overcrowded bat house. A loss, to me, feels permanent. My friend may be exaggerating when he says sportspeople with my personality would kill themselves after losing, but they might miss practice for awhile because anxiety makes it impossible to get out of bed. Or they might develop a phobia of their sport that makes it difficult for them to enthusiastically engage in it thereafter.

And how ridiculous would that be? Even as I write it, I roll my eyes. What kind of self-indulgent, self-important sportsperson would react this way? And yet, it’s often my reaction to traumas in my life. (Hmm…I detect some self-loathing in this paragraph.)

But I want to be fair to myself. My struggles with depression and anxiety do make dealing with things so very difficult. I am most decidedly disadvantaged by this when compared to people without these particular handicaps. And I do always eventually drag myself to my feet. Brush myself off with lacerated hands. Stumble forward and profess my faith through debilitating pain. (I’m not exaggerating – this is exactly how it feels.) Again and again. And then again. Honestly – just to balance this admittedly dramatic and dire picture with some humor – it’s a little like that soccer goalie who keeps getting hit in the face. Except without a bunch of people cheering me on.

It may appear to someone like my friend that I missed out on some important life lessons, such as resilience, that children learn through participating in team sports. I can’t argue with that. But I’ve learned some of those lessons in other ways. Life itself can sometimes feel like a team sport to which I am not naturally suited but required to play. It necessitates a kind of strength and endurance that my friend, who lets things slide right off his back, might not be able to summon despite all his team sportiness. I don’t really know, though. Perhaps all of us, or most, are born with the capacity for such strength and endurance, and just use and express them in different ways. I wish my friend could appreciate that I, too, have these qualities. Even though it often appears that I do not.

And, I must add, while he no longer plays team sports, I continue to ski.

When loneliness isn’t loneliness, or not exactly

DSC_0045

I’ve always been lonely. My first memories of feelings are of being lonely. And this loneliness has never left me. It is my everyday companion, closer to me than any person has ever been.

I remember crying, as a very young child, several weeks after my guinea pig died not because he had died, but because we all must die, and all must be alone in death, and I was unable to comfort my pet in his current loneliness as I had failed to comfort him in life. And no one could comfort me. I went and found my parents, and though they tried, I knew they could not fix what I understood as the essential condition of existence: time passes, winds blow, darkness comes and then light and darkness again, and perhaps nothing really matters.

Existential depression, I’ve heard it called. It’s common in highly sensitive, thoughtful, creative children.

As an adult I understand that meaning will be found where I seek it, that I create my own meaning and that this has to be enough for me, because I will never suddenly be enlightened as to the “real” meaning of things. I accept this condition of existence.

My loneliness is not the same as that felt by people who need the constant presence of others in their lives, and miss others when they are not around. I understand this loneliness, and sometimes feel it – even an introvert needs friends! But this kind of loneliness does not define my life.

My loneliness is also not the same thing as depression, although it is probably linked to it. But I had this loneliness long before I had depression (of a debilitating nature), and while I seek to manage my depression, I am friends with my loneliness.

Sometimes, in its less virulent form, it feels somewhat like melancholy of a bittersweet variety. It is tinged with nostalgia both for past times in my own life and for things I have never personally experienced. C. S. Lewis’s concept of sehnsucht defines it nicely: it’s a yearning for something that cannot be defined or attained. I believe it is the feeling that comes when one deeply grasps the impermanence of things, and yet at the same time does not want to still the fleeting nature of time. It is the feeling one has when it becomes clear that beauty and perfection are contained only in single, ephemeral moments, are only reflections in a drop of water before it falls away.

My loneliness, then, is the knowledge of the unattainability of sustained happiness, love, security, or any other state of goodness humankind desires. Such sustained goodness seems always to exist in another time and another place. In the past. In the future. In a different city or even on a different continent.

And I imagine it existing in other people. Because I know that not everyone lives with this kind of loneliness.

I’m grateful for it, though, because I believe it gives me the ability to experience and feel life deeply. Sure, that means I must deal with some very difficult emotions. But there are those moments, especially when I am out in nature, when I’ll see the way the pieces of sunlight lie across the ground or rocks, or the wind will make the trees speak, and I feel a painful joy that is bigger than those moments and just as wild. And I share something with the universe then that is ineffable but real, and I seem to exist beyond myself in a place that is boundless.

I am in Rumi’s field “beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,” where one lies in the grass and comprehends that “the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

Photograph taken in Keystone, Colorado.

An adventure story

I’m not so great at this blogging thing (though I’ve heard blogging is dead, so maybe it doesn’t matter).

The thing is, I go through periods when I just want to be private. I have nothing to say, or nothing I feel a need to share. Or I don’t have the energy to write. I think that’s okay. Much is made in the blogosphere of consistency, finding a topic, finding an audience. But for what purpose? So people will think I’m consistent, have something to say, and am worthy of giving their time to? Eh. When is it ever good to do something so other people will think something specific about you?

I do long to be more consistent in my writing here. That’s a goal, though one I admittedly have not tried hard to attain. But I’ll never find a topic to write about constantly. My life is not a set topic – I mean, seriously, how do people continue to write about the same basic thing week after week for years? What about growth and change? What about changing your mind?

For example, when I started this blog about a year ago, I wrote a lot about being child free and happy with that. I thought that one of my blog topics could be about being an independent woman who lives alone (despite having a boyfriend of ten years) and doesn’t want children. That’s a cool topic, because that kind of woman isn’t too common.

But life has a way of laughing at decisions. I’ve been thinking about having a child. I wouldn’t say that this is a sudden change of mind, because it’s been percolating for a while now, but it’s a big change, and it’s exciting and scary. And I think it’s fine that I changed my mind. I might change it again.

Another big change in my life – and no doubt related to both my absence from this blog and my changing feelings on motherhood – is that I started a medication for depression in December. I was very anti-medication because the several I’d tried before had either numbed me or made me worse. But things were getting dire, and I decided to give meds another shot. I was prescribed one in a different class than those I’d taken before. And it worked. It was like a miracle. I not only was able to get out of bed, but I did so with enthusiasm for the coming day.

Unfortunately, the early high did not last. But I am still getting out of bed at a reasonable hour every day, doing my work, getting exercise, etc. – and this during what has admittedly been a rather shitty several months. I have to remind myself that my goal was to be functional. I don’t need to feel happy every day, all day. I am a writer, after all. I need my feelings, the good and the bad. So I’m sticking with the meds.

So here I am. Just me, with a mind that changes a lot. Just me, who doesn’t know what she wants from day to day. With not much consistency to offer, and no great wisdom to share, at least not today. Just another human living a human life.

I made a photo essay, though, that I shared on my Facebook and am sharing here, because I’m kind of proud of it. It’s silly and fun – which are not states of being that have been abundant in my life lately. But yesterday I arrived at a place in Arizona that my parents call “Little House,” and took my camera out on a walk, and something about the landscape inspired me. So here’s a little story about finding my way back home after a slight misadventure.

So I saw this ladder and I was like, I think I’ll climb it and see what’s on the other side of that wall.

DSC_0141This is what I saw. Kinda inhospitable looking, but I was like, why not take a walk?

DSC_0100

Then I saw this and I was like, whoa bugs, that place doesn’t look too comfortable. And I got pricked four times while taking the picture.

DSC_0091

Then I walked some more, and it was really dry and prickly, and I started feeling lightheaded.

DSC_0119

So I was like, I should eat something, and I had a quick bite.

DSC_0117

Then I was like, you know, this place is kinda pretty. All the pretty colors. So pretty, the pretty colors.

DSC_0121

And even though we have these aloe flowers in Florida, they are like so much more psychedelic cool here. So I wandered around some more and lost track of time…

DSC_0108

Then I looked up and I was like, am I in Italy?

DSC_0080

But guess what was behind the trees! Little House!

DSC_0129

I’m starting to get friendship

15168558829_6e77be913b_oMy family values self-sufficiency. We never ask for help if we can get something done ourselves. We don’t borrow money, or ask other people for rides to the airport, or hire someone to mow the lawn.

I came up with three reasons why we are like this, not all of which necessarily reflect well on us, but what can you do:

1. We consider ourselves to be talented individuals who can do nearly anything if we put our minds to it.

2. We do not want to get used to depending on others, in case there comes a time when others are not available to help.

3. We dislike the burden of reciprocity.

Our self-sufficiency extends to our emotional lives. If we are sad, stressed, or lonely, we deal with it on our own. I grew up thinking this was natural and admirable. But lately I’ve been wondering what the heck friends and family are for, if not to assist us in times of emotional need. You may find it unbelievable that I never considered this before, but I haven’t. When I feel depressed, I isolate. I don’t want to burden others, and I don’t believe they can actually help me.

Then the other night I mistakenly called one of my close friends (who moved to another state a year ago) on FaceTime while trying to figure out what my own ID was. I quickly terminated the call, but an hour later I got a text from her thanking me for calling and asking if I wanted to chat.

My first thought was, Wow, she thinks I called on purpose! My own assumption in a similar situation would be that the person probably made a mistake because why would they call me randomly? (I personally prefer a heads up on calls so I can “prepare” myself.)

My second thought was, Wow, she’s happy I called! It dawned on me that my friends might actually want me to call them. (I always assume that if they want to talk, they will call me – I rarely fell a “need” to talk because of my self-sufficiency.)

My third thought was, Wow, now I understand why so many of my long distance friendships have faded away or even ended badly. Those friends probably thought I didn’t value them. Here I was thinking they didn’t want to be my friend anymore when all the time they were probably thinking the same of me. And it was my fault.

Truth is, I’ve kinda sorta known this in my heart all along. But I blamed my depression. It makes it very difficult for me to function normally, which includes keeping up with friendships. And there’s the whole self-sufficiency thing. After all, how can friends really help with depression? Nothing can help.

I’ve noticed something recently, though, that makes me think I’m seriously developmentally delayed when it comes to friendship. I’ve had long talks with a good long distance friend twice in the last three months (two different friends). Both times I opened up about how depressed I’ve been (something I’ve only started doing recently, as part of exploring new coping mechanisms). Both times the friends listened, gave advice that didn’t necessarily help (because nothing helps), and talked about their own and other people’s experiences with sadness.

After both phone calls I woke up the next morning feeling awful. Because talking to friends doesn’t help. But then, magic occurred. At least to me it felt like magic. As the day went on, I felt better. Lots better. Like, almost normal better.

You guys, last night I picked up the quilt I started earlier this year and haven’t worked on in eight months and I sewed four squares together! This is a big deal.

I can’t tell you how astounding this all is to me. True, only two experiences isn’t a large enough sample size to base any conclusions on, but you know what I’m going to do next time I feel hopeless and down? Call a friend! My preliminary findings seem to indicate that the act of talking with a good friend who cares and takes the time to listen and respond actually helps me feel better. Not because of anything they said, but because they were there to say it.

You might be thinking, Duh, and I get that! Like I said, I’m clearly lacking in some kind of fundamental understanding of how to make use of the benefits of friendship. But I think I’m starting to get it.

Photograph taken by my father in Keystone, Colorado.

Getting through the steps

I feel the end of the year rushing toward me. In a few weeks I will collide against the annual family trip, and the pieces will scatter where they will.

Yesterday I went to buy supplies to make these. I want to give them as presents to my mother and various other people I know on the island we all gather to in this season. Except when I stood in front of the shelves of clay at Joanne’s I couldn’t decide which colors to buy. Or whether I should buy a multipack or separate blocks. Then I couldn’t decide which kind of paint to buy. Metallic? Gold leaf? Or what size brush.

The choices stymied me. I picked some clay, walked over to the paint aisle, picked a paint, went back to the clay aisle and returned my choices in lieu of others, went back to the paint aisle and did the same, and repeated this exercise for another 45 minutes. It was exhausting. I no longer felt inspired by the project. I left the store without buying a thing.

This happens to me more and more often. The imagined future becomes so bloated with expectation that it bursts right into the present and bowls me over. I wasn’t seeing clay or paint on those shelves. I was watching myself hand out beautiful objects I had made to people I care about and they were so happy…. And suddenly, I could no longer envision how to actually get to that time and place. The steps required – buy the material, roll out the clay, mix, press, bake, paint, pack, find right moment to give – how on earth could I possibly manage all of those steps in the right order and right way so as to find my way to my imagined future?

Here’s the thing. When I was younger, I believed in the possibility of those imagined futures. That belief carried me through all the steps. And sometimes it would work out. But most of the time it turned out differently than I had hoped. And sometimes my efforts resulted in failures. Big ones.

This is life, right? Grownups know this. I know this. But for some reason, instead of learning to accept failure (or its possibility), I find it increasingly difficult to convince myself to make the effort required to move forward. Even though intellectually I know it’s still worth trying, regardless of outcome, I no longer possess enough faith to get me through the steps, let alone begin.

Even so, I endeavor, because otherwise I truly have failed. It’s not faith but fear of miring myself in that black hole of hopelessness I tumbled into among the aisles of Joanne’s that drives me now. I came home from the disastrous shopping trip and bought the materials online. Although I still spent an inordinate amount of time making choices, at least I could do it from a seated position. Step one accomplished.

It’s just one step. Like many activities in my life right now, this one is progressing incrementally, and I don’t know if I’ll get to the finish line. I take back what I said about not having faith, though. Maybe I’m growing a braver kind of faith – the kind you have when you can’t see where your foot might fall on the next step, but you take it anyway.

When there is no payoff

DSC_0825Why keep doing something if there is no payoff?

As a writer, I ask myself this a lot.  Writing doesn’t pay off. You keep doing it, and no one really cares. You get better, and the only celebrant is you.

Our society only values something if there is a progressive outward sign of success. Society would deem me successful if I had publications. This is the question people ask the most when I say I’m a writer. Am I published? No? The conversation generally goes dead after that response. Because they think it means I am not successful, or not a “real” writer yet, or maybe they think it means I must not be very good.

But I’ve stopped seeking publication because being published has nothing to do with my worth as a writer. If I did get something published, what would that mean? Nothing much beyond the fact that someone else likes what I write and my story would reach a small audience. (Not many people read literary journals.)

I don’t want to base my feeling of self-worth on someone else’s judgement. And if I want to reach readers, I can just put my stuff up online. Which I’ve done.

In this area of life and others, I try to structure a personal payoff that is independent of what the wider world might give me.

But you know what? It’s human nature to seek approval and validation from outside the self. And even though I know it’s ultimately unhealthy to do so, I still feel that something is missing from my life.

I have a growing suspicion, though, that this is just how it is. In most things we endeavor and struggle and there will never be any kind of acclaim. This should be something that we understand and accept from a young age, but our culture tells us that there should be more. Fame, fortune, admiration. Success. Accumulation. How else are we to tell if we’ve “made it”?

And so in my secret heart I keep waiting for the payoff.

I hate that I do this.

I have that fall feeling

The other day I looked up at the sky and it was deep blue with precise cumulous clouds – the sky of fall. It had not rained for a few days, and my dog’s ball bounced high off the ground at the dog park. And even though the temperature was still summer high, I had that fall feeling.

I’m happy to have the fall feeling, because my air conditioner broke last week and I don’t want to spend the money to get it fixed. I’d rather buy a plane ticket to a dream-distant, exotic locale.

I’m happy to have the fall feeing because it means action. The time of waiting through long hot afternoons for something to happen – anything – is over. I can start making things happen. It’s coming on harvest time.

And sure enough, I am finding that as I begin to put effort into my life again, things are happening. I made a breakthrough on my dissertation. I took my dog to the park two days in a row and got to witness his happy-stupor face. My desire to write is returning. I bought brown rice instead of white.

I signed up for a newsletter from the website Brain Pickings, and this morning it arrived in my inbox. I read about how we – a collective cultural we – need to learn how to be alone, because it’s essential for living a full life. And I thought, well I haven’t spoken to another human being in nearly 48 hours and I could go another 48. I’ve got this alone thing down.

Then I felt happy because not only do I like being alone, I thrive on it, and according to the newsletter, solitude is essential for creative work. And I fill so many of my hours with creative work. Reading, thinking, writing. Also cooking. And sometimes I work on sewing squares together for a quilt.

Today is cool. It may only get to 86 degrees. (That’s cool down here!) I have the fall feeling and now a fall temperature to match.

Today is good.

You can’t control the message

photo

High summer is usually a difficult time of year for me. The heat, the awareness of diminishing days until school (even though I am not teaching this year I still feel that end-of-summer anxiety), knowing I am nowhere near completing my summer goals…it all combines into a big black morass and I wade right in and get stuck.

Then I commence with feeling sorry for myself, which is combined with a constant, expanding fear that I am lazy, worthless, talentless, and worst of all, always feeling sorry for myself.

Then Robin Williams kills himself and I wonder if there is any hope for anyone, anywhere. If being talented, a hard worker, and surrounded by family and adoring fans means nothing, then nothing means anything, not even that I am in a deep depression, which means that there is no point to trying to get out of it, which I can’t do anyway.

Then my requested copy of Sartre’s Nausea comes in at the library and I am excited to think that there are people in the world, or were once upon a time because the existentialists are all dead now, who see things as I do.

Then I reread all the stories I have posted online and my heart and stomach mix together in one big feeling of sick. Oh. My. God. They suck. My first thought is I have to make that blog private asap before anyone else has a chance to read them. I feel shame.

It is the same shame I feel when I reveal anything that matters about myself to others. The same shame I feel when I’ve been part of a community long enough for people to get to know me a bit. Or when I’ve gone out the night before and had some wine and talked to a total stranger for awhile about something completely innocuous but without carefully evaluating everything that came out of my mouth. It’s what I feel when I am not controlling the message.

The thing is, I know I can never control the message. But oh do I try. And when I can’t anymore, I say goodbye. I end friendships. I stop going to church. I make blogs private. I stay home when I drink wine.

But there was something else when I read my stories. Even though I could see every awkward phrase, every cliche, every bit of unrealistic dialogue, and whoa, the problems with pacing, I still liked them. I read each one through to the end with a certain pleasure, and I was moved. Even though I was crushed realizing how far my work is from what I want it to be (note to self: don’t read any of your own stuff right after reading two amazing stories in the New Yorker), I still liked what I read.

I’m trying to convince myself that matters in some way.

*

The shoes in the picture above are twenty-year-old Clarks. They were given to me in Italy by someone special when I was there on a year study abroad. He also gave me the tag from his Clarks, which were tan.

I never wore these much until the last several years. They were never in style and I had money to spend on shoes. Now they are suddenly in style and I have no money, so out they came from the closet. I love them. The other day I went looking in boxes and found my friend’s tag. I took the photo and sent it to him. I don’t know what he thought of it. He responded, but didn’t say anything about the shoes.

I guess I was feeling nostalgic and hoped he would respond in kind. Or would realize how much he meant to me all those years ago and how much the memory means to me now.

But I can’t control the message once it’s out there in the world. And chances are I garbled it in the telling.

Keep going. Keep trying. Let go of the outcome.

The self I used to be

DSC_0695Here in the South summer continues its inexorable march toward too-hot-for-anything-but-front-porch-sitting time. These days we get afternoon thunderstorms, loud enough to shake the house, and the cool air they bring makes me giddy. It is the season of crape myrtle blossoms – pink, white, lilac, red – and they are blooming outrageously all over town. Mine, though, is in a shady spot at the edge of the porch, and so it’s late.

I am learning French this summer. I’ve wanted to for years, and now that I am making the effort to finally do it, I cant imagine why it took me so long to start. I could be nearly fluent. Instead, I can just about order a medium steak and exchange money or travelers’  checks at a bank.

Do people still exchange money or use travelers’ checks when they travel overseas? Of course they must, but I realized how out of touch I am with my former self when these questions popped into my mind.

You see, I haven’t travelled internationally since I came home from living abroad, over ten years ago. (I go to Eleuthera every year, but that doesn’t seem to count.) In those days I barely used email and had no cell phone. When I was in Australia, a friend sent me a box of books – a box of books! They came by sea mail, and the box was so injured by the long journey that it was delivered in an enormous canvas Australia Post bag. Do they still even do sea mail?

When I used to travel, half my luggage weight was books.

Now I could bring an entire library on a Kindle, but I don’t travel anymore.

People used to tell me I was brave for going overseas so much (I lived in five countries over the course of ten years!). They were wrong. I had a compulsion to seek out knowledge about the world, see it through different eyes, be me. Now I care about different things, or so I try to convince myself. Making a life in one place, building community, building a history. Being a real person. So I stay put.

But last weekend something happened that made me wonder if being a real person is mutually exclusive with being me. At a party I sat down next to a Kuwaiti woman. She noticed that I was comfortable with her “outsider” perspective. I told her that I have often felt like an outsider myself, both before and after my travels. I told her how I used to keep leaving America. I couldn’t stop doing it. I said, “I’m not sure why…”

She said, “It’s your love of leaving.”

She was right. I used to love leaving. I was happiest in those final days before departure, as if I were embarking on an world-changing quest. Leaving, I suppose, was how I distinguished myself. It was also how I eschewed longterm connections, which even now as I actively seek to form them sometimes seem too tedious for words.

When I traveled life was more vivid – more real – because every day in a foreign country was a mystery to unravel. And at the same time it was less real, because as a foreigner I was not complicit in what happened around me. I saw my job as being an observer, not a participant. And I enjoyed the feeling of being lonely. Because somehow, loneliness makes me feel more connected to the universe. I imagine early pilots, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, felt something like this when they were up above the earth, encased in a flimsy, shaking cylinder. Below, an impersonal humanity, perhaps holding the promise of future love and happiness – but for the moment, angling through columns of glowing clouds, there is only pure, unencumbered self facing down the eternal mystery.

I used to feel like I was really living, in those days.

For all the joys of my current life, I struggle daily to feel inspired. I can’t accept that this is what it means to be a grown up.

I wonder if I should start traveling again. And so I am learning French, because it is the language of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And already I am beginning to feel more like myself. Or the self I used to be.

Don’t write every day. Or do, if it works for you

cropped-kayaks.jpgThere are so many ways to feel like you’re not doing it right. We all feel the pressure to conform.

Many of us try to find our own way, set our own standards, and this can be difficult and lonely. I don’t necessarily think it’s any more laudable to rebel than conform. All I know is that when I was a kid and teachers asked us if we were a leader or a follower, I was truly stumped. Weren’t there any other choices?

You’d think writers would be immune to the pressure to conform – or the desire to convince others that there is a right way and a wrong way. I mean, writers are creative and free thinkers, right? To write about society you have to be able to observe it with a critical eye. Feelings of alienation go with the territory.

The truth is, writers can be just as conform-y as anyone else. And worse, they can develop grandiose beliefs that “their way” is the right way. Writers love to tell other writers how to do it.

There are a lot of things you should or should not do as a writer. Demand your family leave you alone for five hours a day. Better yet, rent a cabin. Never use adverbs with dialogue tags. But the most commonly-repeated dictum is this: write every day.

Writing is a muscle, it’s said. Don’t use it and it atrophies. Inspiration is a capricious adulterer. You must be at your desk every day at the same time, so it knows where and when to find you.

There’s truth there. But unless you’re one of the people able to write every day, there’s a lot to feel bad about there, too.

You’ll hear, “If you want to be successful you have to be disciplined.”

If success is getting multiple and consistent publications, then yeah, at the very least you have to have a high production rate.

But I believe success is embodied in action rather than result. Writing itself is the success. And if this is so, then production rate does not matter. Writing every day does not matter unless it is something that works for you.

It does not work for me. I know this after over ten years of writing. What works for me is writing between three and five days out of the week, for an hour or two each session, and taking weeks off between fertile periods for internalizing the new developments of my story and regenerating creative energy. This is a writing schedule that keeps me happy. What’s that I’m hearing from all the self-serious writers? That it’s not important to be happy, only do good work? (Or maybe nobody is saying this.) Well, being happy is one of my priorities. At the end of my life I want to say I enjoyed it as much as I could, not that I wrote however may novels and stories that will molder forever in some rarely-visited, aging corner of the internet.

You know what else I want to say? That I kept on writing through the years. That I sat down and wrote words even when I didn’t feel like it, which is nearly every time I write (I’m not saying I lie around eating grapes and cheese, waiting for inspiration to strike, y’all). But that I wrote every day? Not something I care about being able to say in that hopefully far-off hour when my past comes home to roost for the final time.

So when I see yet another writer extol the virtue of writing every day, while at the same time bemoaning the fact that he/she is too lazy to get it done (or conversely, showing off his/her own dedication to the craft), I get pissed off. I want to say, “Not this shit again. Aren’t writers who don’t write every day allowed to feel good about their method?” And I kind of feel angry at the writer who is regurgitating this “should” bullet point.

I get it, though. I’ve been known to beat myself up for not being productive enough. And when I’m writing a lot I sometimes imagine myself giving sanctimonious advice to less productive scribblers. An inferiority/superiority complex is a common writer neurosis.

If you can write every day, I say great, do it. But I will never, ever say that you have to write every day to be a writer, or a “serious” writer, or a “successful” writer.